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Will N. (Will Nathaniel) Harben.

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with a sigh.

“Mebby longer than that,” answered the old woman. “I feel like I never
will want to leave Amos again, but I couldn’t be away from my home
always, you know. La, it ‘ll seem powerful strange to wake up an’ not
look out o’ that thar window towards the mountain.”

“An’ not to heer the hens a-cacklin’, an’ the cow an’ calf a-bellowin’,”
added Betsey. Then she put her handkerchief to her eyes and plunged
hastily from the room. Mrs. Gibbs moved quickly to the window and looked
out. She saw Betsey climb over the fence and go on through the orchard,
her head hanging down.


II

|The evening before the day appointed for Mrs. Gibbs’s departure, Betsey
came in out of breath.

“What do you reckon?” she asked, as she stood over the hair trunk,
which, roped and labeled, stood on end near the widow’s bed. “What you
reckon? Joel has made up his mind to go.”

The widow was putting a brightly polished tin coffee-pot into an
old-fashioned carpetbag which stood on the white counterpane of her bed.
She stood erect, her hands on her hips.

“Looky’ heer, Betsey,” she exclaimed, excitedly, “don’t you joke with
me! I’ve jest worried over this undertakin’ till I’ve lost every speck
of appetite fer my victuals. I tell you I ain’t in no frame o’ mind fer
any light talk on the subject.”

“He’s a-goin’, I tell you!” declared the old maid. “I never dreamt he
was in earnest the other day when he fust mentioned it, but all last
night he liter’ly rolled an’ tumbled an’ couldn’t git a wink o’ sleep
fer worrryin’ over you an’ yore wild-cat project. This mornin’ the fust
thing he said was that he’d made up his mind to go ef he could git a
round-trip ticket thar an’ back. He told me not to say anything to you
tell he had sent to town. Jest a minute ago Jeff Woods got back with the
ticket. Joel seems mightily tickled over goin’.”

Mrs. Gibbs sat down. A serious expression had come over her face.

“Ef I’d ‘a’ knowed he raily meant to go I’d ‘a’ stopped ‘im,” she said.
“I don’t want to be a bother an’ a burden to my neighbors. Betsey, I’m
a-gittin’ to be a lots o’ trouble to other folks.”

“Pshaw!” cried Betsey. “Ef Joel hadn’t ‘a’ wanted to go he’d not ‘a’
bought the ticket. La me, now I ‘ll have to go git _him_ ready.”

The next morning, arrayed in his best suit of clothes, new high
top-boots, and a venerable silk hat, Joel drove to the widow’s cottage
in his spring wagon. While she was locking up the doors he and a negro
farmhand placed the widow’s trunk into the back part of the wagon. The
neighbors from the farmhouses down the red clay road and across the gray
fields and meadows gathered at the gate. When Mrs. Gibbs emerged,
their mental comment was that she looked ten years younger than before
deciding on the journey.

“All that flushed face an’ shiny eyes is ‘ca’se she’s goin’ to Amos,”
remarked a woman who held a little bare-footed boy by the hand. The
woman addressed was an unmarried woman old enough to be a grandmother.
She looked at the widow’s beaming visage, gave her head a significant
toss, and said, contemptuously: “I say! That woman ain’t a-thinkin’ no
more ‘bout Amos ‘an I am at this minute. It looks to me like some people
can’t see a inch before their faces. My Lor’, you make me laugh, Mis’
Ruggles.”

Arriving at the station, Joel turned the widow’s trunk over to the
baggage-master, and with her carpet-bag and his own clutched in one
hand, he stood on the platform pulling his beard nervously.

“We ‘ll have to spend one night on the train,” he said. “I never thought
to mention it, but they tell me that a body kin, by payin’ a fraction
more, git a place to lie down and stretch out, an’ snooze a bit.”

The widow seemed to have made up her mind that she would not show
crude astonishment at anything new to her experience, but her curiosity
finally caused her to admit that she had never heard of such an
arrangement. So, to the best of his ability, the storekeeper entered
into a description of a sleeping-car, lowering the carpet-bags to the
platform, and making signs and drawing imaginary lines with his hands.

“Men an’ women in the same car with jest curtains stretched betwixt?”
she cried. “No, thank you! I won’t make a fool o’ myse’f if other women
does. I kin set up fer one night easy enough, I reckon. I’ve done the
like many a time with the sick an’ the dead without feeling the wuss fer
it.”

“I hardly ‘lowed it would suit,” stammered Joel, “but I thought thar
would be no harm in givin’ you yore choice.”

“Not the least in the world, Joel;” and then she paled, caught her
breath, and grabbed her carpet-bag, for the people on the platform were
hurrying about; the train was coming.


III

|In the train they found a seat together, and when the locomotive
shrieked and they dashed off through deep cuts and over high trestles,
Mrs. Gibbs was unable to control her excitement. He saw that she was
holding tightly to the arm of the seat.

“I have never been on sech a fast one before,” she said, tremulously.

“She don’t whiz nigh like some I’ve rid on out West,” replied Joel, with
an air of conscious importance, even guardianship.

A few minutes later she grew calmer. Happening to catch her eye, he saw
that her mind was far away.

“I was jest a-thinkin’ how awful it is to be leavin’ Susie’s grave so
fur behind,” she said. “I’m goin’ to Amos, but my other child is back
thar.”

“I was thinkin’ about Rachel’s grave jest a minute ago,” he returned.
“You called ‘er to my mind jest now. Somehow you have the same sort of a
look about the eyes.”

“Shucks! that ain’t so, I know!”

“It’s true as I live!”

“Well, she was a good woman.”

“The best I ever run across, an’ knowed rail well.”

The sun, seen first on one side of the car and then on the other, went
down. The train porter laid a plank across the ends of the seats and
climbed up on it and lighted the lamps overhead. This made the space
outside look like a black curtain softly flapping against the car. The
widow opened her carpet-bag and took out something wrapped in a napkin.

“Betsey said you loved fried chicken an’ biscuits,” she said.

“It’s my favorite dish,” he replied, stiltedly, readily cloaking himself
in his best table manners.

“I’m dyin’ fer a cup o’ coffee,” she said. “This dry food will clog in
my throat without some ‘n’ to wash it down. I put in a package o’ ground
coffee an’ my littlest coffee-pot, thinkin’ thar might be some way to
boil water, but I don’t see no chance. You say we don’t stop long enough
to git supper?”

“That’s what the conductor said.”

But at the next station, where they stopped for only a minute, he
took the coffee-pot and hurried out. The train started on, and she was
greatly alarmed, thinking that he was left, but he had entered the rear
door and now approached with the coffee-pot steaming at the spout.

“Now, ef you’ve jest got a cup about you we ‘ll be all hunkydory,” he
laughed.

Her face lighted up with combined pleasure and relief. “Well, I
certainly ‘lowed you was left back thar,” she laughed. “An’ how on earth
did you git the coffee?”

“They sell it by the quart on the platform,” he replied. “I drapped
onto that trick once when I was on my way to Californy.”

She got out a tin cup and filled it with the coffee. “I never was so
downright grateful fer a thing in my life,” she remarked. “Now, help
yorese’f, an’ I ‘ll sip some along with my chicken an’ bread.”

“I won’t tech it tell you’ve had all you feel like takin’,” said he,
gallantly.

The coffee and the lunch seemed to stimulate them both, for they sat and
chatted and laughed together till past eleven o’clock. Then he noticed
that she was growing sleepy, so he took the vacant seat behind her.

“It ‘ll give you more room,” he said.

By and by he saw her head fall forward. She was asleep. He rolled up his
overcoat in the shape of a pillow and placed it on the end of the seat,
and touching her gently, he told her to lie down and rest her head on
the coat. She obeyed, with a drowsy smile of gratitude. He watched her
all through the night. She slept soundly, like a tired child.

“I never seed a body look so much like Rachel in all my life,” he said
several times to himself. “Pore woman! I’m that glad I come with ‘er!
She’s had ‘er grief, an’ I’ve had mine.”

The stopping of the train a little after the break of day roused her.
She sat up and rubbed her eyes. He did not wait to speak to her, but
taking the coffee-pot, he ran out at the door behind her, so that her
first glimpse of him was when he appeared before her with more hot
coffee.

“You must take a cup to start you out fer the day,” he smiled.

“You do beat the world, Joel!” she laughed. “I couldn’t ‘a’ done without
you.”

She made room for him beside her, and they ate breakfast together. The
rest of the journey they sat watching the changing landscape, remarking
upon the different methods of tilling the soil, and talking of home and
their neighbors.

“It’s strange how people can live as nigh to one another as me an’ you
have an’ not git better acquainted,” he said. “I declare, you ain’t a
bit like I thought you was.”

“I never railly knowed you, nuther, Joel,” she laughed. “You was always
sech a busy, say-nothin’ sort of a man.”

“An’ right now you are off to stay a long time, and I ‘ll have to go back
to the backwoods. I wonder ef - ”

He went no farther, and she did not help him out. She had suddenly grown
reticent, and seemed occupied with the landscape, which was rushing
southward like a swollen stream of level farming lands, in which floated
houses, fences, twisting trees, and waltzing men and horses.

“I reckon you ‘ll stay up thar all the spring an’ summer,” he said at
last.

“I wouldn’t like to leave Amos right away,” she made answer. “You see, I
hain’t seed the boy fer a long time, an’ I hain’t thought o’ nothin’ but
him fer many a day.”


IV

|They arrived in New York at six o’clock that evening. Amos met them at
the train. They hardly recognized him in his silk hat, long overcoat,
stylish necktie, and kid gloves. Joel did not approve of what he
considered a rather dudish dress, but he overlooked that when he saw how
happy the young man was at the sight of his mother.

“I wish I could invite you to my house, Mr. Lowry,” said Amos,
cordially, “but the truth is, we have only a small flat, and there is
hardly room for you.”

“Oh, never mind me,” said Joel. “I’m a-goin’ to a tavern nigh whar I do
my tradin’. I ‘ll tell you good day now, but I ‘ll run in an’ see ef Mis’
Gibbs has any word to send back when I start home.”

He did not see her again for a week. He had concluded his purchases, and
was ready to return South, when he decided to look her up. Finding her
was more difficult than he had imagined. After several hours’ search on
the east side of the city, she being on the west, he finally reached
the big building which contained Amos’s flat. Here he became involved in
another mystery, for he found the front door, a glistening plate-glass
affair, firmly locked, and no bell in sight. He stood in the tiled
vestibule for several minutes deliberating on what was best to do.
Fortunately, he saw a policeman passing, and hailed him.

“I’ve got a friend a-livin’ somewhar in this shebang,” he said; “but you
may hang me ef I know how to git at ‘im.”

“Is his name on one of the letter-boxes?” asked the policeman.

“What letter-boxes?” questioned Joel. “I hain’t seed no names.”

With an amused aspect of countenance the policeman mounted the steps and
went into the vestibule. Here he opened some wooden doors in the wall,
disclosing to view a long row of letter-boxes with the cards of their
owners beneath them.

“Who’s your friend?” he asked, kindly.

“Amos Gibbs. I’ve knowed ‘im ever sence he was a little - ”

“There,” interrupted the policeman. “I pushed the button. That rang a
bell inside, and they will open the door by electricity if anybody is at
home. When you hear the latch clicking, push the door open and go in.”

He disappeared down the street, and then Joel was roused from apathetic
helplessness by a rapid clicking in the lock. He opened the door and
went in. It was fortunate that Amos lived on the first floor, or even
then Joel would not have known how to proceed farther. As it was,
another door at the end of the heavily carpeted hall opened and a
servant girl in white cap and apron put out her head.

“Yes,” she said, in answer to his inquiry. Mrs. Gibbs was at home,
He followed her into a little parlor facing the street, with a single
window. It was furnished more neatly than any room Joel had ever been
in. The polished hardwood floor was covered with rugs of various
kinds and sizes, and the room contained a bookcase, an upright piano,
pictures, and pieces of bric-a-brac such as the store-keeper had never
seen.

Mrs. Gibbs entered from the dining-room in the rear. Her hair was done
up in a new style, which made her head appear larger than usual, and she
wore a shining black silk gown that added height, dignity, and youth to
her general aspect. She gave him her hand, and her whole attire rustled
as she sat down.

“Well, you got heer at last,” she said. “I ‘lowed you never would come.
I’ve been lookin’ fer you every day. I hain’t hardly done anything else
sence I got heer.”

Joel stared, flushed, and tensely folded his hands anew. It seemed to
him that he would not have suffered such a dire lack of words if she had
not been looking so fine. It was as if his stalwart masculinity were
a glaring misfit among the dainty gewgaws about him. He was mortally
afraid the slender gilded chair he was sitting on would break under his
two hundred weight. He had never imagined that dress could make such a
change in the appearance of any one. The only features about her which
seemed natural were her voice and a triangular bit of her wrinkled face
which showed through her low-parted hair.

“I come as soon as I got through,” he heard himself say; and then he
cleared his throat from a great depth as an apology for the frailty of
his tone.

“I kin see you think I’m a sight to behold,” she laughed, merrily.
“Sally fixed me up this-a-way: She fluted my hair with a hot curlin’
fork, an’ combed it like the New York women’s. She hain’t done one thing
sence I come but haul out dresses an’ fixin’s that used to belong to ‘er
dead mother, an’ try ‘em on me, an’ they’ve kept me on the move tell I’d
give a sight fer jest one little nap whar thar wasn’t so much clatter.
Last night they give me a old woman’s party. Joel, jest think of a
person o’ my age a-settin’ up tell ‘leven o’clock talkin’ to a gang o’
gray-haired women like a passel o’ hens jest off the’r nests! An’ jest
when I ‘lowed they was all goin’ home, Sally passed around things to eat
an’ drink.”

“They wanted to make you have a good time,” ventured the storekeeper.

The widow lowered her voice, and threw a furtive glance toward the
dining-room.

“But it ain’t the way to make a woman o’ my raisin’ enjoy a visit,” she
said, cautiously. “I don’t dare to say a word, fer Amos seems tickled to
death over all that Sally gits up; but, Joel, I’m mighty nigh dead. Like
a born idiot, I told ‘em in my last letter that I’d stay three months,
an’ now, as the Lord is my help an’ stay, I don’t believe I can make out
another week.”

Her voice faltered. Moisture glistened in her eyes.

“I hope it ain’t as bad as that,” remarked Joel, in a tone of vast
sympathy.

“It’s jest awful,” whimpered the widow. “I make so many fool blunders.
‘Tother day they wanted me to go to Brooklyn with ‘em, an’ I jest lied
out o’ goin’; an’ as they wanted to take the hired gal along to watch
the baby, I agreed to stay at home an’ ‘tend to the house. My Lord,
Joel, ef you’ve never been alone in one o’ these contraptions, don’t you
ever try it. The hired gal showed me all the different arrangements,
an’ what I was to do. When the bell in the back rings you must press
the button in the kitchen, an’ when the bell in the front rings, it’s
somebody at the side door in the hall. An’ when you hear a shrill
whistle out ‘n the talkin’-tube in the kitchen, you have to open the
end an’ blow an’ then holler through an’ ax what’s wanted. Then ef it’s
groceries, ur milk, ur peddlers’ stuff, ur what not, you have to go to
the dumb-waiter that fetches things up through a hole in the wall like a
well-bucket an’ take the things off. I had a lots o’ trouble. I was busy
all the while the family was off at that dumb-waiter. Like a born fool,
I didn’t know it tuk stuff to other folks, too, an’ I thought it would
save time to set at the dumb-waiter with the door open, an’ take off the
things without waitin’ fer ‘em to whistle. You never seed the like in
all yore life! Before I’d been thar a hour, the kitchen was liter’ly
filled with all manner o’ stuff, beer, bad-smellin’ cheese, and oodlin’s
an’ oodlin’s o’ milk in bottles. After a while I heerd a fearful racket
inside the dumb-waiter. People all the way to the top was a-yellin’ out
that somebody had stole the’r things, and the landlord was a-bouncin’
about like a rubber ball, an’ talkin’ of callin’ in the police. Finally
he come in an’ axed me about it. He fixed it all right fer me, and
delivered the goods to their rightful owners, an’ promised not to tell
Amos nur Sally what I’d done.”

“You did sorter have a time of it,” said Joel. “I’m no hand myse’f to
understand new fixin’s. It’s been chilly the last day or so, an’ when
I went to my room in the tavern t’other night I noticed that it was
powerful warm after I went to bed. I got up an’ struck a light, but thar
wasn’t a sign of a fireplace in the room, an’ it was so hot I ‘lowed
thar might be a conflagration a-smolderin’ som ‘ers. So I put on my
things an’ went down to the office. They explained to me that the heat
comes frum a furnace below, an’ runs into the rooms through holes in the
floor. They come up an’ shet mine off so as I could sleep.”

“It’s a heap nicer our way,” said the widow, without a smile at his
misadventure. “I tell you, Joel, I jest can’t stand it. I want to go
back. When are you a-goin’?”

“In the mornin’.”

She fumbled in the pocket of her skirt and took out her handkerchief,
placing it to her eyes.

“Oh, I’m heartily sick of it all!” she whimpered. “You are the fust rail
natural thing I’ve laid eyes on sence I come. Sally is mighty cleanly,
an’ I’d ax you to clean the mud off ‘n yore feet, but it’s the fust muddy
feet I’ve seen in so long I want to look at ‘em.”

Joel glanced down at his boots and flushed. “I never noticed ‘em,” he
stammered. “I had sech a time a-gittin’ in this shebang.”

“Lord, it don’t matter, Joel! I’m jest a-thinkin’ about you a-goin’
home. I simply cayn’t stand it; an’ yet Amos an’ Sally would feel bad ef
I went so soon. Amos was sayin’ last night that they would make me have
sech a good time that I’d never want to leave ‘em; but la me! this is
the fust rail work I’ve done in many a day.

“Well, I must go, I reckon,” Joel said, rising awkwardly and taking his
hat from the floor by his chair. “I’m sorry, too, to go back an’ leave
you feelin’ so miserable. I wish I could do some ‘n’ to comfort you, but
I can’t, I reckon. Good-bye - take keer of yorese’f.”


V

|When he arrived home two days later, Betsey found him, as she thought,
peculiarly reticent about his trip, and all her efforts to get him to
speak of how Mrs. Gibbs was pleased were fruitless. One afternoon
two weeks after his return she ran into his store, where he was busy
weighing smoked bacon which he was purchasing from a customer.

“What you reckon, Joel?” she asked. “What you reckon has happened?”

“I don’t know,” he said, looking up from the paper on which he was
figuring.

“Mis’ Gibbs’s got back.”

“You cayn’t mean it, sister!”

Betsey leaned against the counter, and the hardware in the showcase
rattled. Joel’s face had paled. He called his clerk to him, and told him
to settle with the customer, and walked to the door with Betsey.

“Yes,” she said. “She got home in Jeff Woods’s hack about a hour ago.
All the neighbors is over there now. She acts so quar! She hain’t seemed
to keer a speck about the cow, nur the cat, nur the chickens. As soon
as she got ‘er things off, she jest sot down an’ drooped. She don’t look
well. The general opinion is that Amos an’ his wife have sent ‘er home,
fer she won’t talk about them. She acts mighty funny. Jest as I started
out I happened to remark that you’d be astonished to heer she was back,
an’ I never seed sech a quar look in a body’s face. But,” she concluded
after a pause, “they couldn’t ‘a’ treated ‘er so awful bad, fer she’s
got dead loads o’ finery.”

That night Joel closed up his store earlier than usual, and when he came
into the sitting-room he brought an armful of big logs and put them in
the chimney. Then before a roaring fire he sat reflectively, without
reading the paper he had brought with him, as was his wont. Betsey
sat in the chimney-corner knitting, and looking first at him and then
peering through the window toward Mrs. Gibbs’s cottage.

“Brother Joel,” she said, suddenly. “You are a-actin’ quar, too. You
must know some ‘n’ about what happened to Mis’ Gibbs, ur why don’t you go
over thar an’ see ‘er like the rest o’ the neighbors? They’ve all been
but you. She ‘ll think strange of it.”

“I don’t see what good I could do,” he answered; and he began to punch
the fire, causing a stream of sparks to mount upward with a fusillade of
tiny explosions.

Betsey knitted silently for a few minutes longer, then she rose and
stood at the window.

“She’s got ‘er lamp on the table an’ a paper in ‘er lap, but she hain’t
a-readin’ of it,” said Betsey. “It looks jest like she’s a-goin’ to
commence ‘er lonely broodin’ life over ag’in. Some ‘n’ seems wrong with
‘er, as good an’ sweet as she is. She kinder fancied she’d be happy with
Amos, an’ mebby when she got ‘im with ‘er she begun to pine fer her ole
home. Now she’s back, an’ I reckon she hardly knows what she does want.
I say, perhaps that may be her fix.”

“Mebby it is,” admitted the storekeeper, briefly.

Betsey turned on him quickly. There was a peculiar aggressive sparkle in
her eyes, a set look of determination on her face.

“Brother Joel,” she said, “you’ve jest got to have a grain of common
sense. You’ve got to go over thar this minute an’ see ‘er. Ef you don’t
she ain’t a-goin’ to sleep a wink. I know women, an’ I’ve knowed Mis’
Gibbs a long time.”

Joel drew his feet from the fire and wedged his heels under the rung
of his chair. The muscles of his face were twitching. There was no
mistaking Betsey’s tone. She sat down near him and laid her thin,
tremulous hand on his knee.

“Do as I tell you, brother. Don’t be back’ard. You can’t hide nothin’.”

Joel rose. He tried to smile indifferently as he went to a little mirror
on the wall and brushed his hair and beard.

“You must wish me good luck, then, sister,” he said, huskily. “I ain’t
no ways shore what she will do about me.”

After he had gone out Betsey took up an album and opened it at a
collection of tintype pictures. On one of these her eyes rested long and
mistily. Then she kissed it, wiped her eyes, and went to bed. Two hours
later she heard the front door close and her brother creeping to his
room.

“Oh, Joel!” she called out. “Come to my door a minute.”

His boots made a loud clatter in the dead stillness of the house, as he
approached.

“Was it all right, brother?”


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